Thursday, October 16, 2008

WineMaking 101: The Harvest and Crush

Okay, kids, let's learn how to make one of the most important fluids in the world: wine!
We're talking red wine here specifically.

I started making wine 3 years ago, when my professor at UCLA asked his students if we were interested. We bought 100 pounds of Sangiovese grapes from the Home Wine, Beer, and Cheesemaking Shop which is also a great resource on equipments and brewing nutrients.

That was the last time we bought though. That year and the years following, my prof's grape vines have started to bear fruits and we've been getting grapes from those vines.
So. First step - you harvest. Before the harvest, test your grapes regularly for its brix/sugar content. High sugar content will make much better wine (higher alcohol content)- if it is too low you have to add sugar but the natural sugar is always better. The later the harvest, the sweeter the grapes will be, but you may lose quantity.

Get the grapes in bunches and throw them in a barrel. We use the big gallon trash cans - new/clean of course! Don't worry about the stems/leaves at this point - we will get rid of those later, just get as much as you can.No, you don't have to wear funny outfits like we did. The only reason for the masks was that we were having bee problems.

Next, you destem and CRUSH.
The Home Wine, Beer, and Cheese Shop has a destemmer that will do the work for you, but in our low volume backyard process, I just crush them with my feet :)
It's been a tradition!

So destem the grapes, get rid of the leaves, throw them into a big, shallow bucket. Then CLEAN FEET in, and crush crush crush.

Once everything is crushed, measure the specific density - this will tell you the sugar content. 22 brix will give you 11% alcohol - Aim for 24 brix or so. The Shop's website also has a great list for charts etc on how much sugar/water to add to correct your sugar level.

Next you add the sulfite, tartaric acid, malo-lactic, super super food (nutrients for the yeast), and also water and some yeast. Grapes will have a white coating on its skin (see photo above) which will be covered with yeast. It is better to use natural yeast, but if there is not enough yeast you will end up with vinegar, so to be safe add some yeast.
Again, there's a chart/recipe on how much to add. People will tend to modify this based on experience, but of course I cannot disclose our secret recipe :P

We put everything in our big clean trash can. After these nutrient addition, cover the top of your crushed grapes with plastic - very important to make sure everything is covered and airtight! Air will promote the growth of bacteria and give you vinegar!

Then put on the cover for your trash can and leave it to brew for a week or so. Check the specific density every day. It should go down as the yeast is brewing, and you'd want to wait until you get as close as possible to zero.

When you hit that point .... we'll talk about it next time: PRESSING!

In the meantime, you have to get on to the most important part of the harvest .... The Feast :D
Always have a feast, with wine of course, when you're done harvesting ;)


H. C.

I'm sure it'll be a lot tastier than Prison Wine!

Love the hands-on approach, much better than the winemaking class I took @ UC Davis (lots of winery & vineyard tours)


moldy bread socks .. "it was definitely wine... like... ish"
Yikes! sounds scary

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